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Monday, March 31, 2014

Good bye Finland

That's what I call a snow mobile. One of those is still missing in my bike collection. I will build it one day, I don't know yet what for, but at first, it's always good to have it... Hyvästi Suomi!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Commissioning crew is visiting Finnish Lapland

Destination this time: Ivalo – direct flight connection from Helsinki. We picked up our car at the airport, the smallest one ever, but absolutely enough for cruising around a bit. We went to the … lake, made a fire and grilled some sausages. Waiting the sky to get clear, but it wasn’t supposed to happen that night, unfortunately.

The next morning Torsten and me were going to the Urho Kekkonen National Park. It was stormy and foggy, almost nothing to see. We tried to walk up the Kiilopää mountain, but found ourselves surrounded in clouds soon. It hasn’t made so much sense to walk further. We picked up Frenky and his family from the airport instead, booked a tour for the next day and tried the Lapland sauna in the evening. There was one Finnish guy, we called him “fire fighter”, who was sitting right next to the oven putting water on it continuously. I don’t know how the oven could still be heating up the room, because the water was just running through. But somehow it did, the temperature must have been more than 100°C. And if someone was leaving (or coming) he was already asking for the next bucket of water. Amazing, that guy. We’ve met some Norwegians also. They’ve been on the way through, enjoying the beers for “moderate prices”, they said. Moderate prices? Aha!!! We just looked at each other, shaking our heads. (A beer in Finland still costs something about 6 €!)

The snow mobile tour was fun. Speeding across Finland’s largest lake, lake Inari. Not as fast as possible, and under continuous surveillance of your guide, but still a fun thing. We grabbed some cookies and tea in cottage, and Pekka told us everything we wanted to know and showed us his latest polar light pictures. He was able to take some wonderful shots. I will try to take one myself the next time again. We finished off the day, as usual, with some drinks in the sauna.

Monday, hiking day. Destination: Lemonjoki (= river of love) Nationalpark. Civilization ain’t existing there anymore, some 50 km southwest of Inari. Just some cottages – people hardly to be seen. After a couple of left and right turns, we weren’t able to locate our position on the map, lost, in the middle of nowhere, no sign leading us to the P which was printed in shiny blue colour on the leaflet. Finally, we found a cottage having its lights on. We parked the car and started to look around. Suddenly, a man showed up, dressed with a kinda coat, mainly in red and blue. He was wearing slippers made of reindeer fur, the top twisted and curled like some men do with their long grown moustache. Communication was more than difficult. I didn’t get a word of his Sami-Finnish and he, himself, doesn’t speak English at all. But his wife did, luckily. After explaining our plans, she disappeared and came back after some moments, carried a few maps, widened them on the table. The car park we were looking for ain’t accessible during winter, and the track we wanted to take was used by snowmobiles every now and then, maybe once a week, as it seems. Though, we started slightly demotivated. And it was a torture, not as relaxing as it was supposed to be. Our feet were sinking in soft snow, as far as 50 cm, knee-deep. But we reached the tent with a fireplace in the middle. Thanks god, warming up a bit and having freshly made mustamakkara (blood sausage) with puolukka hillo (lingonberry marmalade). We headed back as it was getting dark.

Time to go to the airport. Time’s up! Last chance to see those polar lights. It was simply to clouded (and warm) and all possibilities vanished. But from the aircraft, above all clouds, aurora borealis guaranteed. Frenky, Torsten and I, each of us sitting at a separate window, were prepared perfectly, hidden under a jacket to prevent any light to cause reflections at the glass. We waited, and nothing happened, nothing spectacular at least. There was something, hardly visible, and I told myself that can’t be it. I took the camera, highest possible sensitivity, shutter speed 15 seconds. I tried to hold it calmly to avoid blurring of pictures. And there it really was – a green shire across the horizon. Damn, all those pictures in the internet and brochures – all fake. It’s just not as bright as shown there. If you don’t look for it, you wouldn’t even recognize it’s there! Obviously, you must be really lucky to see it clearly. But I’ll try again someday!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Kiruna in Swedish Lapland

Kiruna city, near the Yellow House hostel
Kiruna, far up north in Swedish Lapland, never heard of that city before. And I am not the only one. That lady at the checkin counter at the Helsinki airport was looking at me doubtfully: "Destination KRN, I've got no idea where that is but you might have a good reason going there!" Yeah, I had for sure, getting even more curious.

View towards lake Torneträsk, near Abisko National Park
I met Vika and Claus in Stockholm, where I had a stopover anyway. Two hours and a little dozy sleep later, we arrived in Kiruna. 1pm and the sun was setting already, a process that takes somes hours up there. At least the sun was showing up. Outside temperature: -23°C! Wouldn't call that a warm welcome. But snow and ice everywhere, like it has never been any different.

In the ice church in Jukkasjärvi
The first evening was supposed to be our first proof how we'll deal with those weather condition. We were looking for a guided tour showing us around a bit, but not much was going on. "Unfortunately, it's a bit too cold these days!" Temperatures were varying heavily. In rural areas -45°C could be reached easily. Damn!!!

Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi
We booked the tour available - polar lights colosseum. Means they take a few people and bring them somewhere to the wilderness, offering drinks and cookies and wait for polar lights to show up. Weather conditions were brilliant that night, extra cold and crystal clear sky, just no lights. I was wearing like 3 pair of trousers, 4 sweat shirts plus winter jacket, overall, 3 pair of socks, boots, 2 pair of gloves, face protection and hat - basically everything I had with me and the company was offering. And still, after a while ... freezing my butt off. As the lights were not visible we decided to enter the hut where reindeer meat was offered - so delicious. And after having a couple of glimpses to the sky, we were able to see it, the first polar light ever. Not very strong, but for a while it was somehow swirling on the horizon.

Elk near the lake Laukkujärvi
We rented a car on Saturday, hitting the ice covered road on ourselves. Abisko was the place to go. Temperatures were foreseen to drop below -40°C at night, so even the aurora skystation was closed. In that case, not many options there. Instead, we went to Jukkasjärvi. It was located on the other side of Kiruna, just some 10 km away. A spot other tourists found worth seeing as well. The lobby was put into another building, great entrance and modern café/restaurant/pub. The hotel itself was in walking distance. From 10 am to 6 pm, it was opened to tourists who wanted to have a little walk-around in there. It was cool to get an impression, but sleeping there at -5°C, putting oneself in an overall to prevent you from not getting up the next morning, and paying 150 € for it, at least? I don’t know.

Laukkujärvi at sunrise
The next morning we got up early. One of those ladies’ from the Friday tour was telling us where to go to see elks. I’ve not put so much trust in that, knowing how difficult it is to meet them. Thus, we started a bit demotivated. Unnecessarily, as it turned out quickly. We took a dead end road towards the mountains, to Nikkaluokta After a while already, Vika spotted a little baby elk, the mother on the other side of the street. They looked at us, we at them. No reaction. No sound, just the shutter from the cam sometimes. We tried to get closer, and mother elk crossed the street with huge jumps. Huge animals, massive! A least glimpse before they disappeared in the undergrowth. We saw 5 more of them before going back to Kiruna.

We returned the car and walked to the Luossavaara mountain. As it was the snow and ice festival, Intersport invited everyone to free of charge skiing material testing. So we slipped into those shoes and clipped on the skiers – battling some kids down the hill. The wind was freezing cold and even Vodka was not helping to warm up easily. The kids had won, obviously.

Huskies having a little break after draging the sled
The last thing we did on that Sunday evening – dog sledding. While the dogs do the work, we were sitting on the sled watching the sky for possible polar lights. But it was too clouded, nothing to see at all. 12 dogs were pulling the sled, with us and 2 instructors on it, Mia from Finland and a Swedish guy (Kevin, Marcus, Max, or so, can’t remember). The smartest dogs were up in front, basically the brain of the system. They were controlling the whole thing and following the commandos. The more you go backwards the more powerful the dogs get, more strength, but more dumb also. -20°C means perfect weather condition for them. They feel pretty much comfortable then. But if it’s exceeds -10°C they won’t be running, it would be too warm for them. Sounds so weird!

Vodka-lemon and Vana Tallinn in melting ice glasses